The September 2017 issue of News from The Alps has a story about toilets in the Alps that is good reading for people Walking the Border. If you’re not deterred by the Walk you shouldn’t be deterred in the toilet either. It’s a great blog read if you have time in lieu. The Walk the Border team will pass these sites 22-23 October.
Who would think that a dotted line drawn on a map would have any bearing on where people go to the loo? The strange thing is, that’s exactly what’s behind the toilets – literally – at these two ACT Parks’ sites. To put it simply, visitors to Mount Franklin or Mount Gingera may not know it, but to use the toilet at either location, they cross the border. They leave the ACT to do their business in New South Wales. And before you leap to the conclusion that this situation must surely strain relations between the two managing parks agencies, understand that this arrangement is longstanding and a great example of the sort of cross-border co-operative management that the Australian Alps Program celebrates and supports. Murrumbidgee Ranger Brandon Galpin knows these two toilets well and is happy to explain how it all works…
“Both Mount Franklin and Mount Gingera sit on the border drawn when Canberra was put in position and allotted its water shed.” Around 1914, Harry Mouat, one of the survey team that drew that dotted line around Australia’s capital, created the section of line that runs through both Franklin and Gingera. “It’s a line that delineates where a drop of rain would notionally fall: if it flows to the east it feeds the Cotter catchment to become drinking water in Canberra; to the west it flows towards the Goodradigbee River.” Clearly Canberra’s founding fathers understood the importance of a source of reliable clean water, and having invested in the survey to create that source, they were also careful to protect it. “When the chalet at Mount Franklin was built in 1938 by the Canberra Alpine Club, as part of their lease agreement, they sited the toilets over the border in New South Wales.
After the 2003 fires the site up at Mount Franklin was a vision of Armageddon. The chalet was burned to the ground but the toilets had survived with just a scorching.” These were repaired, and they continued to service visitors to the site on which in the years since, a memorial footprint of the chalet has been installed and nearby, a new shelter structure.
Over at the base of Mount Gingera there’s a similar loo situation at the site of the research hut built in the 1950s by forester, botanist and founder of the lost Australian Alpine Botanic Gardens, Lindsay Pryor. The original hut still stands as did, until recently, its original toilet. A lot like the Mount Franklin Chalet, Pryors Hut sits virtually on the line dividing the ACT from New South Wales and its toilet is a full 20 metres inside the New South Wales border. Which brings us to another thing both the Franklin and Pyor’s Hut toilets have in common.
“These were pit toilets, and while there might once have been a metal liner in the one at Pryors hut, it had fatigued and the ground water was clearly getting in to fill it up. Over at Mount Franklin, we have to empty the pits more often and the raw geology means we can’t be sure that there isn’t seepage.” Despite being on top of these mountains, rainfall and snow-melt raises the ground water so that seepage is an issue whether it moves westward into less populated areas or eastwards towards Canberra’s drinking fountains.
Visitors to Pryors Hut could be excused for not spotting the works to the toilet (pictured). Looking at it it’s hard to picture the effort that went in below ground by NSW field staff Frank Barnes with shovel, Cam Bates with jackhammer and Rob Burke taking the photo who drew up the plans, decommissioned the old structure and built the new.
Dealing with two old toilets that no longer conform to best practice, brought together agency staff from both sides of the border/rainfall line. Not that there was anything unusual in that. “We’re always in touch with our brothers and sisters over the border. New South Wales manage these toilets but we work together over any issues.” Recently there was a flurry of activity at Pryors Hut. NSW capital works funding gained by Sarah Chubb and Andrew Dickson, Brandon’s NSW Parks colleagues, made it possible to remove the old toilet and replace it with a precast concrete tank pit toilet. “The toilet hut has been rebuilt using reclaimed tin on the walls and roof over a slightly enlarged hardwood frame.” It may look very similar to the previous toilet, but it will require less maintenance and there is less risk that it could adversely affect either catchment.
Hot on its heels is a proposal for an ACT heritage grant for a similar make-over for the toilet at Mount Franklin. “We plan to remove the old pit and fill it in with the material dug from the new toilet site. We’ll also use a precast tank but we’ll be refurbishing the toilet hut and moving it to sit over the new tank pit.” Given that the top half is being recycled, and thanks to a thorough process of competitive quote gathering, Brandon estimates the ‘new’ Mount Franklin loo will cost between $17 and $18K. The new site remains in NSW. The 2003 fires destroyed the Mount Franklin Chalet. Its toilet survived, and there are plans to replace the below ground part of the structure while retaining the upper section which is still in keeping with the original chalet.
It’s also a great feeling to know that when anyone is doing work like this in these very special landscapes, they are doing it with minimum negative impact always at front of mind. Closer to home, it’s also good to know, as Brandon points out, that when you turn on the tap in Canberra you’ve still got the cleanest water of any capital city in Australia.